Bringing Back Beach Haven Business Requires Work
The SandPaper in recent weeks reported on Beach Haven’s efforts to meet the New Jersey affordable housing requirement to encourage the construction of low- and moderate-cost housing by developers. The report offered that Beach Haven businesses would also benefit with the new residents the homes would bring. Beach Haven also introduced a new ordinance that would permit the borough to force residential and business property owners to either maintain their property or face additional action by the borough. This, too, would further benefit local businesses, as the borough would become more attractive to visitors. While these efforts may be welcome to some, the real concern in my view is beyond the control of Beach Haven.
The continuing demise of Beach Haven businesses began 10 years ago and is the result of four main changes in the Beach Haven population demographics.
Beach Haven led the nation in the increase in home values in 2005. This new wealth caused many long-term homeowners, a large percentage of full-time residents, to cash out and move away. Many of those selling also had rented their homes during the summer season. The new owners of these homes were in most cases seasonal, and few continued the rental plan of the former owners. Local businesses took a double hit: fewer full-time consumers and, more importantly, fewer new families every week with new money to spend during the summer season. Fewer rental opportunities provided those owners who continued to rent greater financial return but reduced spendable dollars for local business purchases.
The economic growth and an aging population also had an effect on Beach Haven business. Knockdowns were everywhere and the new homes provided amenities the former homes did not. The new owners were more affluent, did not rent their homes and visited weekends. Some of the new owners also had homes in southern states and, being retired, had a lesser need for new clothing or other purchases. While many might welcome visits from family or friends, in most cases only two people lived in the home, again affecting local business and restaurant visits.
The number of knockdowns increased after Superstorm Sandy, further exacerbating the town’s problems.
The number of vacant stores that were formally operated has increased yearly but seems to have stabilized at 12 empty stores. Retail stores are the first to be hurt by a reduced number of potential customers. Food establishments are affected at a later time, as we all have to eat, but fewer people mean fewer restaurant visits. There are three restaurants for sale in Beach Haven, and one will close.
Beach Haven needs many more rental opportunities to increase what was: visitors Monday through Thursday. The borough has little developable land to encourage new hotel opportunities and the new owners have little interest in offering their properties for rent, so what can be done to revitalize Beach Haven business?
One plan might be to attract visitors from other Island towns. To do this Beach Haven must offer what cannot be purchased or enjoyed elsewhere and this makes the assumption that the other towns do not also share a lesser weekday population. I do not think it possible to attract off-Island visitors because of traffic, new county stoplights and restaurant and shopping opportunities that are far greater over the bridge.
The businesses and restaurants that will survive will continue to be those that have operated for some time with little or no debt. The closed businesses will provide additional opportunity as there will be fewer places to shop and to eat with the declining weekday traffic. The retail stores, many vacant for years, are an indication of what the future may be for restaurant choices. Retail stores may be opened with a fraction of the funds needed to open a restaurant. Restaurant staffing and operational expenses are far greater, making the chance of success more difficult.
There are some actions that may be taken by Beach Haven to stabilize what is and to create a more positive result for Beach Haven businesses and residents. The Beach Haven real estate tax is much greater than that of Long Beach Township. Some have said the tax is the result of the town’s many parks. The three major parks – the former baseball field, Walsh Field and Leeward Street – have some active areas, but most enjoy little use. A bay beach with more activities would be more attractive. While Veterans Park provides some Saturday craft and sale events, these activities take away from the stores and provide no income to businesses. Plus, they draw visitors for no more than an hour or so.
I suggest Beach Haven consider other uses for the parks. Beach Haven must consider consolidation of services with the township. Fewer residents mean less trash to collect and fewer security concerns. The Beach Haven School needs to be consolidated with the township. Competent educators will advise that children need socialization with others – the learning process will be better. The school site would be better used for residential opportunities.
Beach Haven’s average home is valued in excess of $800,000 and the value is going up. These are mostly seasonal or second home residences. The homeowners have from their other homes and lifestyle an expectation of how their town should look. Beach Haven falls far short of what other towns look like with homes of similar value. A walk through Beach Haven finds more being sold in the parking lots and sidewalks than in the stores. Stores compete for the largest, most ugly signage. Lighting of storefronts seems to suggest that all stores are going out of business. One store opened in 2014 that has an attractive storefront and a standard of product and service went out for business and seems to be doing well by the number of logo bags being carried.
Beach Haven can do much with little if the town determines to enforce or consider signage standards and flea market retailing and encourages businesses to better reflect the new market the newer residents have brought to town. Walk through Beach Haven. Consider what is being offered and where the goods are offered. Glance at the signage. Everything is on sale with a sign that is gray with age. What is next? Signs with flames suggesting a fire sale?
I am betting that nothing will change. Will the last person leaving Beach Haven turn off the lights after Labor Day?
These thoughts are from another now-seasonal resident with gray hair.
Howard Buerkle is a resident of Juno Beach, Fla., and Beach Haven.